Strengths Based Parenting feels like a bit of a trend (hello lighthouse parenting, drone parenting, and snowplow parenting). If it is, then it’s the most common sense parenting trend I’ve seen come along in years.
In Strengths Based Parenting: Developing your children’s innate talents, Dr Mary Reckmeyer says that the “best fit for a child is the best in the child.”
“Children will be happier and do better when they are working within their talents,” Dr Reckmeyer says. “So nurture the nature.”
When I was in Year 12 in high school, about three months out from the HSC, my Maths teacher told me not to come back to class. “You’re not going to catch up on six years of maths in three months,” he said. “I’m giving you three extra hours a week to go and study what you’re good at.”
I tell people that story and they have one of two reactions:
1. What a terrible teacher; and
2. Just how bad were you at Maths?
Answer: really, super bad at Maths. Unlike Mr Hing at teaching. He recognised that the train for my doing well at high school Maths had well and truly departed, so he immediately moved into a strengths-based, holistic approach to teaching: forget about your weakness, go and excel at what you’re good at. So I did.
That’s basically Strengths Based Parenting in a nutshell.
We can’t be good at everything
There’s a real expectation these days that our kids can be good at everything, if only they would work harder, longer, faster, better. I happen to think that’s a load of old bollocks. Not that any kid can’t perform well at whatever they put their mind to, but rather that they probably don’t want to.
We all have things that we are “naturally” better at and other things we innately suck at. I’m shit at Maths and running; but I’m awesome at writing and dancing*. I just happen to like those things a hell of a lot more too. * I am not really awesome at dancing.
Trouble is, I’ve spent many long hours trying to be good at both Maths and running. I’ve literally sweated and cried trying to get better at those things. Because we’re supposed to work on our weaknesses, aren’t we? We’re supposed to constantly want to improve and be good at all the things.
“What would happen if we studied what is right with people?” – Donald O Clifton
Noticing instead of fixing
All the hours I lost trying to be better at something that I’m not particularly interested in would have been spent actually becoming better at the things I am. This is what the heart of Strengths Based Parenting is all about.
“Research shows that when children and teenagers have strengths-focused parents, they report better better psychological outcomes,” says Dr Lea Waters, author of The Strength Switch. “Including greater life satisfaction; increased positive emotions such as joy and hope; enhanced understanding of their own strengths; and decreased stress.”
So, here’s the challenge, instead of trying to “fix” our kids, let’s work on trying to “notice” our kids instead.
Strengths light the way
Over all these years, I’ve spent a lot of time agonising over Max’s lack of a sporting activity. Bart and I put him into every sport imaginable, trying to find “his” sport: rugby, soccer, basketball, cricket, parkour, tennis, athletics. Max has tried and loathed them all. I was beside myself, because doesn’t every kid need a sport? The exercise, the team work, the strategy, the commitment, the responsibly! All the things sport teaches a kid… but not my kid.
Last year Max spent three afternoons and all day Saturday rehearsing for his school musical, Bring It On. Rehearsals involved countless hours of hip hop, acrobatics, cheerleading, singing and acting. He worked as part of a team to put on an amazing production that required 100% commitment, focus and team effort and Max loved every minute of it.
When we help our kids work with their strengths, instead of constantly pointing out their weaknesses, they find their path. And it’s a path that simply glows.
What are your child’s strengths?
Image by Conner Baker